Arise — go! Sell all you possess. Give it directly, personally to the poor. Take up My cross (their cross) and follow Me, going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me.
Little — be always little! Be simple, poor, childlike.
Preach the Gospel with your life — without compromise! Listen to the Spirit. He will lead you.
Go into the marketplace and stay with Me. Pray, fast. Pray always, fast.
Be hidden. Be a light to your neighbour’s feet. Go without fear into the depth of men’s hearts. I shall be with you.
Pray always. I will be your rest.
The Little Mandate of Madonna House
Go without fear into the depth of men’s hearts. I shall be with you. Our weekly journey through the Little Mandate of MH, the core words we believe God gave our foundress Catherine as the guiding spirit of our community, is winding to a close.
These sentences of the mandate were the ones above all that, when I first joined MH, seemed like essentially a dead letter to me. Go… where? And without what… fear? Why? How? For what good purpose? Mind you, I was 22 years old when I became an applicant here, and somehow not too many people want a socially awkward, barely out of high school young man blundering around in the depths of their hearts. I would have just broken something in there, which come to think of it was more or less of a leitmotif of my early years in the apostolate.
And ‘I will be with you’… well, Jesus, since you’re in there already how’s about I just let you handle it, then! And so it was, with only the most mild and moderate growth in the matter for the longest time, for the first ten to fifteen years in the community. In the meantime, though, and this is the important thing, this line was working on me in a way that was most necessary for my being able to live it in any meaningful way.
Namely this line pushed me to go into the depths of my own heart in a consistent, deep, and often very painful way for the longest time. The long work of coming to know myself, what was going on inside me, and what I needed to do and be to be healed and freed to love and serve God and neighbour. And this was what was needed—we cannot go into the hearts of other people if we have not dwelt at some depth in our own hearts, confronted to some degree at least our own darkness, brokenness, sin. And come to know that, miracle of miracles, He is with us there and has been with us there all along.
When Catherine De Hueck received the Little Mandate in the 1930s, she had already been forced deeply into her own heart of suffering and darkness by her life experience. Her painful marriage, the horrors of war, the nightmare of the revolution, exile, starvation, being a stranger in a strange land—all of this had pushed her at a very young age deeply into the depths of her own being. And it was through all of that pain and suffering that her faith, always strong, grew to its fullness.
So as a young woman in her late 30s she was well prepared to receive this word of the Lord, and in fact had been living it for some years, as hear large and loving heart was a refuge and consolation for many people already at that time.
And this is how it is in life: we have to go through the things we have to go through—it is utterly different for each person—and out of this come to be able to console others in what they are going through. We are pushed into the depths of our own hearts, meet Jesus there, and then have the capacity in this to accompany others into the depths of their own hearts so that they can meet Jesus there, too. Mostly by just listening and praying, praying and listening, occasionally offering a word of advice or two. But mostly, listening.
What I am describing is so much the daily work of a seasoned member of MH, so much what we are really doing while we are doing all the humble ordinary tasks of our daily life. In Combermere it is the hidden fabric of the place, and in our mission houses the constant work, whatever else they are doing.
And of course, 25 years later, as a priest in this community, I am simply more and more given over to my daily work being precisely here in this line of the mandate that, when I joined the apostolate, seemed to be utterly beyond me and completely irrelevant to my life and capacities. Our God is an awesome God.